The days are few and far between when I keep the catch. In the Severn River fishery, I feel that the species that we’re lucky enough to catch and catch fairly often, should be respected and released. The exceptions being white perch during their summer peak and the abundant channel catfish year-round. (I believe I kept only one striped bass in all of 2022.) But sometimes, when I work hard to simply find fish…and then find the whole enchilada…well, that’s when I feel it’s quite fine to aim for a limit of keepers and go home happy and satiated. With winter patterns setting in for pickerel and yellow perch, my patience working the water and finding fish was rewarded this past week…big time! The latter-species being the hottest ticket of the day.
On Saturday, December 17th, the weather and winds were favorable for a creek outing in the jon boat. Though predicted to have gusts reach knots in the teens, the day felt stable, the sun was peeking out from clouds here and there, and the air temperature hovered around 40F. I launched the boat at 10:30 a.m. on an incoming tide at 0.4′ and the water seemed even a touch higher than what the app on my phone told me. This bodes well for casting along the shoreline and all manner of cover (docks, laydowns, bottom transitions, etc.). I stayed exclusively in my creek of choice and applied techniques that have caught me the cold-weather species we’d be targeting. My initial target was beast pickerel—I wanted to hook into a trophy if possible. More likely the fish would be in the 20–23″ range and that’s exactly what I hooked into once I found them.
The morning began with an approach to the leeward side of the creek and casting a Rapala X-Rap 08 in yellow perch color by means of my medium St. Croix Triumph spinning rod and Penn Battle III DX reel (size 2500) setup. This is a great setup for casting small jerkbaits or even search baits like inline spinners and soft plastic paddletails. I methodically casted the jerkbait toward shoreline as I troll-motored east to west, retrieving it back slowly with subtle twitches. Most of the water I covered was 3- to 7-feet deep. And there were no fish…not even a follow.
Eventually, I worked my way near the shallower end of the creek and into a small back cove. I fancasted the same lure 360 degrees from my boat’s position smack dab in the middle of the circular cove. It was almost noon already, and with no bites, my optimism was waning. And then…wham! A healthy 21.5″ pickerel torpedoed the X-Rap and excitedly dismissed the skunk on the boat. Felt good after the hard work to find one. Maybe the fish were in shallower environs. The sun was touch and go as there was cloud cover, but if any water was going to warm up a smidge past the 45F mark that the transducer was showing, it would be the creek’s end. Here, the depth slopes from less than a foot to about 3 feet in spots…maybe 4.
I moved from the cove and pushed into the far end of the creek, casting the X-Rap throughout the skinny flat. By this point the tide cycle had eclipsed its slack-high and was just starting to ebb. The water was moving. And so was the wind. Those predicted afternoon gusts were beginning to hit with more frequency. As such, my best option would be drifting the jon boat along a castable shoreline. The wind showed me the way. And so began one of the most epic runs of fishing I’ve had this year.
The winds were blowing from the northeast, so the southeastern-facing shoreline I chose to fish allowed for a perfect parallel drift. On the first pass, a chunky 10″ yellow perch hit the X-Rap, which is a bit of a large lure for the species. Sensing there might be more fish where she came from, I decided to change things up and cast my lighter spin setup—another St. Croix Triumph, but rated light, paired to a slightly smaller reel (a Pflueger President, size 20). This is a nice panfish setup. I run 10# Powerpro braid as a mainline and tied on a 5′ leader of 12# Seaguar Blue label flourocarbon. Normally, 12# leader would be overkill if I was targeting only perch, but since toothier pickerel were in the mix, this leader would help avoid breakoffs. (And when I’m throwing the jerbaits exclusively for pickerel, my leader strength is up to 17#). To the end of the line an 1/8oz ball jighead tipped with a 2″ Moondog Bait Company Slim Shad. The action on these micro-paddletails is tantalizing and effortless to achieve. They perfectly mimic small minnows or even a struggling earthworm.
I motored back up to the head of the drift and lined up my first cast, with no idea that I was about to hook into the motherload for the next hour. First cast, perch. Second cast, perch. Third cast, pickerel. By the fourth cast, I was already nearing the end of the drift. I was a bit bewildered. Were all the fish schooled up in the back end…here? Sure seemed like it. On the third pass, this was pretty much confirmed, so I locked into repeatedly drifting this stretch of water over and over, until the bite tapered off. The first several perch, I safely released. But I kept pulling keeper-size fish over the gunnels. On the fourth pass, I decided to start keeping a few for supper. Fish after fish would hit the microbait. Even several pickerel connected, one of which stretched to 21″—a joy to play on the lighter rod.
In about 10 passes, I had clobbered more than 40 perch and hammered at least 10 pickerel. I caught my limit of 10 neds, had fun catching and releasing a bunch more, and finally called it a day by 2 p.m. It was a blissful outing, made even better by the quarry that I happily cleaned and cooked in the kitchen. The family ate well, my soul was full, and the anticipation for another trip like this one already boiling over. Bring on winter.
But wait…there’s more! A bonus fish! Just a couple days later, during a sunny afternoon, I took a break from work-at-home-life and tried my hand at a bit of wade-fishing the same creek at my walk-to spot. I casted that same micro-paddletail. How could I not? Usually, I fancast the spot five or six times before calling it quits. I think it was the third or so pass when something thumped the paddletail. I let it rest on bottom for a second, then two. And then the take. Fish on! “Surely, it must be a pickerel,” I thought. It had the weight of a pickerel, but wasn’t thrashing as such. Turns out, it was a 13-point-something-inch yellow perch. A mondo perch! Big mama. This gal was egg laden and is ready to burst come spawn. I admired her beauty. It’s not often that you catch a limit of yellow perch in the Severn River, let alone a huge specimen. This winter season could be shaping up to be something quite special. See y’all on the water again, real soon!